Red Review: November 06

LFC Monthly Review ‘“ November 2006

November started off well ‘“ with no Halloween hangovers! The team and the fans were all on a high from our victory over Bordeaux. Steven Gerrard was overjoyed to break his scoring duck, and Luis Garcia was named fans star man ‘“ deservedly so too. He played a blinder that night. And with Rafa Benitez sticking one finger up to the pundits and all his critics by not changing the team line up, he couldn’t have given us a better start to the new month!

The players were all so buoyant; quite a few of them were talking to the official site. Gerrard gave an interview, admitting that the team had let Benitez down in recent times; Jamie Carragher predicted that Gerrard would go on a scoring run, and Dirk Kuyt seemed to think after 3 successive victories, the worst was now behind the team. Good to see the players’ confidence is so high and optimism wasn’t completely sapped from the squad. Only time will tell if it was mis-placed, though.

Reading were first to visit Anfield in November. Alonso was passed fit, but Bellamy stayed at home. Rafa made two changes for the match. Jermaine Pennant and Bolo Zenden came into the team for Luis Garcia and Momo Sissoko respectively. Reading were no match for the Mighty Reds, who ran out 2-0 winners, with a Dirk Kuyt double. It felt like Reina was getting over his early season horrors too, and the defensive solidarity showed was immense.

In the days following the match, Sami Hyypia picked up an award that he could almost make his own! He was named as Finnish player of the year ‘“ for the 6th time in 8 years. Hyypia was the overwhelming choice of judges in his homeland. He’ll have to wait for the announcement of the Finnish Journalists and FA Player of the year though ‘“ that’s announced in December.

The Carling Cup tie with Birmingham was next. Many were wondering if we’d repeat our 7-0 score line of last season, but it was not to be. Rafa made quite a few changes, controversially leaving out a few of the more senior members of the first team, including Gerrard and Hyypia. Pepe Reina was also left out, giving Jerzy Dudek his first start of the campaign, with youngster David Martin on the bench. Pennant was in the starting line up though ‘“ and boy was he relishing a return to St. Andrews!

The Reds ran out 1-0 winners, but it was not without cost. Momo Sissoko fell awkwardly from a challenge and dis-located his shoulder. An injury that will keep him out for 3 months. Sissoko’s injury over shadowed the goal that Daniel Agger scored in the time added on at the end of the first half ‘“ ironically, the time added to treat Momo!

An away win in the Carling Cup though, did not take anyone’s minds of Liverpool’s poor away form in the League. Getting towards mid-November and still no League wins on our travels. And to top it off, we haven’t scored away either since the first day of the season. And even that was a penalty! Not the type of form you want to be taking on a trip South for a meeting with old rivals Arsenal.

Nor was it the ideal preparation when, just days before the big match, news came out that Rafa was looking to leave and move to Italy. Shock. Horror! Tell me it’s not true. Fans were up in arms. Thankfully, Rafa came out to explain that his agent had been misquoted, he had never been looking to move to Serie A, and was quite happily looking forward to staying and building Liverpool into a super-power again ‘“ phew!

Around the same time, the England squad was released to the press and 3 Liverpool players were included: Gerrard, Carragher and Peter Crouch. And then just 2 days after that ‘“ the draw for the Carling Cup. We were all waiting in anticipation. Please let us draw Southend, please! Let us show the Mancs how it’s done hee hee. Who did we get? Bleedin’ Arsenal. Oh well, at least we were drawn at home ‘“ which could be a blessing, considering what transpired in the away match the following weekend.

Our first visit to The Emirates Stadium, Arsenals flash new home, couldn’t have gone any worse. We matched them for the first 40 minutes, and then things went a bit Pete Tong. Mathieu Flamini scored and our heads just dropped. Kolo Toure and William Gallas completed a 3-0 rout for the Gunners. 2 of the 3 goals could have been avoided ‘“ but that’s just the way our lucks gone away from home at the moment.

Half the team didn’t even have time to work on what went wrong against Arsenal as almost immediately they were whipped away to join up with their countries. Seven Reds players in all were in action in friendly matches. Gerrard and Kuyt lined up against each other in the England-Holland friendly (Carragher and Crouch just warmed the bench), Daniel Agger lined up for Denmark against the Czech Republic, John Arne Riise played for Norway against Serbia, and Xabi Alonso was in the starting eleven for Spain’s defeat against Romania.

There were also Euro 2008 qualifiers being played. Steve Finnan played in the Republic of Irelands 5-0 victory over San Marino and Hyypia played in Finland’s 1-0 win against Armenia. Both played a full 90 minutes.

If ever the Liverpool public needed reminding of how quickly Dirk Kuyt has won over the city of Liverpool ‘“ he was one of a host of celebrities switching on the Liverpool City Christmas lights on his return from Holland ‘“ there can’t be a much bigger honour!!

Middlesbrough were next on our fixture list. Should have been an easy one really ‘“ well, on paper anyway. Boro’ too have had a funny season. Beating Chelsea one match, then getting hammered by Portsmouth the next. They’re just carrying on the trend from past seasons I guess ‘“ thriving at home against the top teams and coming up short against the strugglers. Given our away form this season, which category we fell into was debatable. It came to pass that Liverpool fired blanks yet again ‘“ although if 3 points were awarded just for effort, we’d have had this one sewn up. We controlled the game pretty much from start to finish. We just couldn’t find the onion bag. And so it came to pass that we got 1 point for the 0-0 draw; but Boro’ were so poor we really should have taken all 3.

Attention now turned back to the Champions League, and the next lot of visitors to Anfield. PSV Eindhoven. Kuyt called on Liverpool to re-discover their scoring touch, while PSV had their own striking problems as Patrick Kluivert was ruled out for the match. This wasn’t so much a ‘˜must win’ type match, but more a ‘˜who’ll top the group’ match. Liverpool top of Group C, PSV in 2nd. Both already qualified. Both on 10 points.

Liverpool’s former right back, Jan Kromkamp only served to stir the shit before the match. Kromkamp, now playing for PSV, gave an interview to the press stating how ‘˜ugly’ he thought Benitez’s football and tactics were, and showing his disdain ‘“ probably out of jealousy ‘˜cos he couldn’t dislodge Finnan from the team! Certainly didn’t help tempers in the dressing room before the match.

We won the match 2-0 in the end, which ensured we topped the group with one match to go. The match was not without cost though. Both Alonso and Mark Gonzales were injured in the first half, and Pennant came off midway through the 2nd half. Gonzales was the more serious of the 3, and what with Sissoko and Harry Kewell also out it left our midfield decimated. We still allowed Reserves midfielder Danny Mannix to join Accrington Stanley on loan though, so Rafa obviously wasn’t that worried!

The full shortlist of 50 players for the Ballon d’Or had been announced just a day or two before the Manchester City match. Liverpool fans were left in surprise, as Gerrard was the only Liverpool player on the list. What about Alonso? What about Reina? What about so and so? And the debate went on, but it all fell on deaf ears! Carragher picked Kaka to pick up the coveted trophy, but rumours were abound that Fabio Cannavaro would win because of his performances at the 2006 World Cup.

Liverpool fans were delighted to welcome home one of Anfield’s modern day legends. Didi Hamann made his return with current club Man City. In the end, it was a hard fought match, but one little mistake between Joey Barton and Sylvain Distain allowed Gerrard to hit a 20 yarder. 1-0 to the Reds, one more injury to go with it. Zenden out for 5 weeks ‘“ another midfielder out.

Portsmouth were next up. Rafa gave a lot of thought about how he was going to play this one, as the midfield options were extremely limited. Even Sami Hyypia was in contention for a midfield berth, although that task ultimately fell to Jamie Carragher.

Another 0-0 result as Pompey seemed to park their team bus in front of goal, and we just couldn’t break them down. A point’s a point I guess, but this is another match where we really should have had all 3.

The date was eventually set too, for our Academy stars defence of the FA Youth Cup they won with distinction last season. December 6th against West Brom. Can the Youth Team retain the FA Youth Cup this season? What will December hold in store for the first team? Who knows? Football – it’s a funny old game.

Simon Pearce

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